Last month the Organic Farming Research Foundation released the National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) and the Organic Seed Alliance published the State of Organic Seed (SOS). Both of these publications may be downloaded and contain interesting reading on organic farmers’ concerns, research and technical needs, and current practices. Below are key highlights.
Organic Farmers’ Use of Conservation Practices
The NORA survey showed that organic producers continue to lead the nation in adopting soil health management and climate-friendly practices. For example, nationwide 76% of organic field crop farmers plant cover crops regularly, compared to just 10% of conventional field crop farmers (according to NOSS statistics (Hellerstein, et al, 2019)). And more than half of organic survey respondents reported intercropping, a practice that is rarely used on conventional farms. In the corn belt region, 75% of respondents report using cover crops and green manures often or very often, and 33% reported using intercropping often or very often. Cover crop use grew in all organic sectors since the last NORA survey in 2016.
Other Farm Characteristics
A majority of established growers intended to maintain (65%) or increase (29%) their organic acreage. This does not include those transitioning land to organic production for the first time.
- More than half (64%) of survey respondents marketed the majority of their products locally, 22% regionally, and 8% nationally.
- Wholesale marketing was used by 45% of the respondents, Direct-to-consumer by 29%, Direct-to-retail by 10%, and another 6% used a food hub or cooperative.
Top Challenges and Needs
Below are the top 5 challenges, concerns, and needs for organic growers based on the NORA survey. Rankings are for our region. Depending on the question Ohio was included in the Corn Belt agro-eco region (with Indiana, Illiniois, Iowa, and Missouri) or in the North Central SARE region.
Top 5 Production Challenges for organic growers in the Corn Belt
- Controlling weeds
- Maintaining adequate yields
- Managing production costs
- Managing soil fertility and crop nutrition
- Minimizing adverse impacts of tillage on soil health
Top 5 Non-production challenges in the North Central SARE region
Finding and Developing Markets for Organic Products
- Accessing Labor
- Cost of Organic Certification
- Developing Infrastructure
- Meeting Recordkeeping Requirements
- Accessing Capital and/or Financing
Nationally, BIPOC respondents were more likely than white respondents to list the cost of organic certification and accessing labor and capital as substantial challenges.
Top 5 Topics of Concerns for the North Central SARE region
- Organic Fraud and Integrity of USDA Organic Label
- Industrial Organic
- Crop Contamination (e.g., GMOs, pesticide drift)
- Imbalance of domestic certified organic supply and demand
- Availability of organic research funds
Top 5 Technical Needs for the North Central SARE Region
- Organic weed, insect pest, and disease management
- Soil fertility and management of crop nutrients
- Securing sales channels
- Soil conservation and soil health
- Production assistance
These 5 needs were the same for the US overall, except that items 3 and 4 were switched.
More on Technical Needs
“Other certified organic farmers” continues to be the most valued resource for most respondents. A majority of respondents expressed a desire for more agricultural professionals with knowledge and understanding of organic systems. Nationwide, organic survey respondents preferred printed materials, and on-farm demonstrations or field days over conferences and workshops, online materials, and other electronic methods of communications. However, conferences were more popular in the northcentral region--probably due to several long-standing annual events. Transitioning farmers tended to be more interested in online resources.
Recommendations for Research, Programming, and Policy
Based on survey responses and focus group discussions, the NORA report makes suggestions for programs, policies, and research. Research recommendations from this report will figure largely into USDA federal grant priorities for the OREI and ORG grant programs.
Top research needs included:
- Developing regional integrated weed management strategies
- Creating tools to assess and manage production costs
- Soil health strategies and assessment tools
- Organic pest and disease control techniques
- On-farm seed production and cultivar development
- Organic dairy and livestock health
- Assessing the impact of integrated systems on overall farm health
For more information
- Read a summary list of organic research recommended in the 2022 NORA report.
- Download the full NORA report from the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
- prepared by Cassandra Brown, OFFER program coordinator